It is not known when Neel was born, but he died in 1497. The Latin epitaph on his tomb in Arundel tells that he was born in Jersey, that he devoted himself to the seven arts, that he graduated at Paris, that he became treasurer to William of Waynfleet, Bishop of Winchester (who died in 1486), that he became Dean of Prince Arthur's Chapel, that he 'shed lustre on his native land by founding two schools, in which grammar should for ever be taught', and that he died on 5 March three years short of the year 1500.
Dean of Prince Arthur's Chapel meant Senior Chaplain to the household of the nine-year-old Prince of Wales. Other Jerseymen held posts in that household. Thomas de St Martin, Seigneur of Trinity, was Premier Usher, and Edouard De Carteret was Gentleman-Carver. The only other fact known about him is that in 1488 he was Master of Arundel College, for in that year the Calendar of Inquisitions mentions a "messuage called Ryvers in Fittleworth, Sussex, held by John Neel, Master of the College at Arundel".
This was a College founded in 1580 by Richard, Earl of Arundel. It consisted of a master, seven priests, three deacons, three sub-deacons, two acolytes, seven choristers, two sacrists, with three yeomen and two grooms to wait on them. And their duty was to say masses daily in the church of St Nicholas, Arundel, for the souls of the Earl's parents.
The two grammar schools were founded in conjunction with a fellow-Jerseyman, Vincent Tehy, Merchant of Southampton. On 15 November 1496 Henry VII granted a charter:
- "To our well-beloved Jean Neel, Dean of the Chapel of our dearest son, Arthur, Prince of Wales, and to Vincent Tehy, Merchant of Southampton, we grant licence to found two schools in our island of Jersey on such sites as shall be found convenient with two masters and two ushers, if need require, to instruct the boys of the island in grammar (in those days this always meant Latin Grammar) and in the other lesser liberal sciences according to the constitutions laid down by the aforesaid Vincent and Jean, the masters to be appointed by the Dean and clergy of the island. Moreover we grant leave to Jean and Vincent, notwithstanding any Statute of Mortmain to the contrary, when the schools are erected, to endow them with an annual rente of 60 quarters of wheat, and we grant leave to any, who are willing to do so, to contribute to increase this to 260 quarters. And we will that neither our Governor nor any other island officials save the Dean and clergy shall in any way intermeddle with appointments to these schools".
The founders decided to use part of their gift to increase the endowment of St Mannelier at St Saviour, and to use the rest to establish a similar school for the eastern parishes, which they attached to a Chapel of St Anastase, which stood in a lane leading down to St Peter's Valley.
This was an appropriate link, for St Anastase, a monk of Mont St Michel, who became a hermit on the neighbouring islet of Tombelaine, was "very learned in Greek and Latin".
The founders' statutes required that school should last from six in the morning until six at night, and that the education should be entirely free. Both schools lasted until the middle of the 19th century, but were always crippled by lack of adequate funds, for no benefactors came forward to increase the endowments, as the founders had hoped.
Today the endowment is used for scholarships at Victoria College. Neel died on 5 March 1497, only four months after the charter had been granted.
Vincent Tehy (1469-1498) is also known to have been born in Jersey, of a Jersey family, but to have pursued a career as a merchant in Southampton. He was a tax collector there for Edward IV and was Sheriff and twice Mayor of the town. He was a major wool trader.
The Tehys were a Jersey family. In the Assize Roll of 1509 there is a Pierre Tehy at St Peter and a Jean Telly at St Helier. Henry VII's Charter mentions Pierre Tehy as one of five Jerseymen who distinguished themselves in the recapture of Mont Orgueil. In later documents St Helier Manor house was spoken of as a maison de Tehy.
Vincent is first mentioned in 1469 as Burgess and Water Baily of Southampton, a post which he held till 1471. Under Edward IV he was Collector of the 15th and the tenth granted by the laity of the town to the King, and on the accession of Richard III he received the usual General Pardon for all deficiencies. In 1474 he was Sheriff, and he was twice Mayor in 1484 and 1498, and the Book of Fines during his Mayoralty shows him to have been an exceedingly active official.
He was a merchant in a large way of business. In 1484 he and his partners acquitted some London merchants of £1,200 in return for an acquittance of 1686 sacks of wool, and some years later he joined with others in exporting 156 bales of cloth.
Foundation of schools
How the two men came together and exactly when and how the two schools were founded is something of a mystery. A Jersey curate, Jehan Hue, is usually credited with the foundation of St Mannelier's, having offered land adjoining his church for the purpose in 1480. An article by historian Philip Ahier in the 1952 Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise, suggests that the new school was in existence when Neel and Tehy founded St Anastaise to serve the west of the island in 1486.
However, other authorities suggest that little happened following Jehan Hue's offer and it took the arrival on the scene of the two men to get the two schools off the ground. The major 20th century Jersey historian, George Balleine seems to have been in some doubt because his entry for Jehan Hue in his Biographical Dictionary of Jersey suggested that this school was operating in the 1480s, and that Hue was its 'founder', but his entries for Neel and Tehy describe them as 'co-founders' of bother schools, ten years later than Philip Ahier suggests, in 1496, when King Henry VII granted the two men a licence 'to make, found and establish two schools in our island of Jersey with two Masters and two Ushers, if need be, under them for the education of boys living in the island in Grammar and the other inferior liberal branches of learning'.
The Masters were to be appointed by the Dean and clergy of the island and Jean and Vincent were permitted to endow the schools with an annual rente of 60 quarters of wheat, and to seek other investors to increase the endowment to 260 quarters. All island officials other than the Dean were forbidden by Royal order from any involvement in the running of the schools.
Henry VII's charter is reproduced in Philippe Falle's An account of the Island of Jersey and clearly identifies Jean Neel and Vincent Tehy in connection with the 'erection' of two free schools.
Whatever the true sequence of events, it seems clear that Neel and Tehy can be given credit for getting both schools operating, as they continued to do until the late 19th century.